It appears the angry Venezuelans demonstrating against their oppressive government have taken to feuding among themselves, and that can only impede any effort to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez after the latter’s death a year ago.
Such shredding of the opposition will likely increase as long those demonstrating for freedom are essentially left on their own, without the support of democratic nations.
To increase the pressure on Maduro, the United States should consider sanctions, such as those proposed by members of Congress, including Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Marco Rubio. They are calling for President Obama to take direct actions against Maduro and other Venezuelan officials who are violating human rights.
Among the steps they propose: Denying these individuals visas to enter the United States, freezing their assets in the United States and prohibiting them from conducting financial transactions here.
Such measures are unlikely to topple Maduro’s regime, but would hit some of its abusive leaders in the pocketbook and demonstrate America’s support for the Venezuelan fight for freedom.
Without such a show of support and the momentum it would give the opposition, the movement may splinter and dissipate.
There already is evidence of such deterioration.
“People have stopped believing in some of the opposition leaders because they have been co-opted by the government,” one protester remarked last week as he began to march through the streets of San Cristóbal, one of the few Venezuelan cities where the political opposition is in the majority.
Dialogue with the government only “legitimizes its policies,” the protester said.
Maduro lacks the charisma of his predecessor but is similar to Chavez in finding scapegoats to blame for his government’s many failings and, as usual, the United States is chief among them.
The early protests in San Cristóbal, which is on Venezuela’s western border far from the capital, Caracas, focused on crime, corruption, and the inflation that now, astonishingly, exceeds 56 percent. It’s not clear how Maduro can blame Washington for that problem, but like Chavez before him he doesn’t feel the need for evidence, proof or even logic.
Some demonstrators feared that if violence were to erupt, it might simply — and with dire consequences — play into the government’s hands.
“We are no longer calling ourselves the opposition,” a student leader manning a barricade said. “Now we are the resistance.”
In Caracas, political analyst Carlos Romero said that the split among the government’s critics is “one of the negative consequences of this crisis.”
“The main division within the opposition today is whether or not there are conditions to bring on a regime change,” Romero told the Christian Science Monitor. “The ultra radicals think they can bring down the government with continued protests, while the moderates are looking for dialogue with the government.”
But the ones on the streets are making the most noise and taking the biggest risk.
“The most important thing we have achieved in these days [of protest] is that we have met citizens on all the streets of Venezuela ... who want a political change,” said Maria Corina Machado, a lawmaker who led a protest march in San Cristóbal last week.
But another protester argued that the more radical opposition leaders are misguided if they think “a few barricades” will topple Maduro.
“We have to be patient,” he added. “This fight is not a short one.”
Leopoldo Lopez, who lost to Maduro in last year’s presidential voting, was arrested in mid-February on charges of instigating violence after he encouraged the burgeoning protests. Even so, he is regarded as a moderate and has proposed a recall referendum that could be held in 2016.
That would seem to be the most reasonable proposal put forward so far, but is Maduro listening? His hearing might improve should the United States impose sanctions.